April 11, 2014

Mimicking our heroes

Batting stance, bowling run-up, shuffling, adjusting equipment - there's something about cricketers' idiosyncrasies that makes us want to copy them
16

King Viv: emulate at your own risk © PA Photos

This week I found myself laughing at a YouTube video in which a hyped-up club player charges out to bat, face-plants and then gets bowled for a golden duck. I watched it more than a couple of times, if I'm honest, and it got me wondering about the ways in which I myself had been influenced over the years by the rituals and idiosyncratic routines of international players.

It starts from a young age. Even on an overcast day in the backyard, one of my brothers would often plaster his face with zinc in a pattern influenced by Australian fast bowler Craig McDermott. We'd bat around the wrong way and try to mimic Allan Border's distinct bobbing at the crease, or run in to bowl from an angle in the style of Merv Hughes. Aping the bowling actions of Peter Taylor, Greg Matthews and Waqar Younis, sometimes in the space of a couple of deliveries, eventually came to us subconsciously.

It wasn't just us, either. We've all been there. In a club game in the late '90s I remember hearing howls of laughter from the field as I walked back to my bowling marker because an opposition player had attempted to mark his guard in the style of Shivnarine Chanderpaul: removing one bail and hammering it into the turf in the distinctive style of the West Indies batsman. I wasn't above bowling with a small white towel hanging from my pants to shine the ball, so I was hardly in a position to judge.

These tics and habits have always been a source of fascination. The way David Boon scratched around the crease and "gardened" the pitch while purposefully readjusting his protector was as much part of the legend of Boon as the moustache and that oft-discussed flight to Heathrow. When the player in that YouTube clip fell over, he looked ridiculous obviously, but that same type of ritual is enacted on an almost daily basis wherever there is cricket played. David Warner does it, Justin Langer did it; someone down at your club probably does. In ten years' time it might be skipping, or running backwards, that's de rigueur.

My favourite of these rituals - and it wasn't really even a ritual so much as body language and an inherent ability to project dominance - was the way Viv Richards strolled to the crease. Viv didn't need to windmill his arms or play phantom strokes on the run. (And just how helpful was that routine to a player like Ricky Ponting, often pinned lbw early on as he lunged forward too extravagantly?) "Swagger" is an understatement for Viv's entry to the crease.

Others are more subtle and often not engaged in it for the sake of intimidation. The stutter-step at the top of Ben Hilfenhaus' run-up is one that many would-be fast bowlers could identify with. Maybe there was no reason why they started doing it, but once they did it felt unnatural to stop, or they'd think twice about it and it would disrupt their rhythm. So it sticks and enters the realm of automation, or maybe even superstition.

For Jonathan Trott and Derek Randall, both famous for their fidgeting and endless adjustments of pads and equipment while preparing to take guard, the ritualistic fussing was clearly beyond control. It was as much a part of their batting as footwork and watching the ball from the bowler's hand. A rare piece of engaging commentary during the recent World T20 focused on the reluctance of many modern players to wear "inners" inside their batting gloves and lose their "feel" on the bat handle. As a result, many undo or take their gloves off completely while they are off strike in order to air them out. These habits and customs evolve as interestingly as any aspect of the game.

Recently while looking for a cricket helmet in the shed I happened upon my very first thigh pad, a small and yellowing Gray-Nicolls one. It must have been from the early '90s, because, having seen a photo of Mark Waugh using a Biro to inscribe a new addition to the rows of scores he'd written on his own, I'd taken up the habit myself. It made me think of a time and also the places in which I'd made those (far less impressive) scores. It was a pointless exercise and slightly embarrassing, but the memory of it made me smile.

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sports in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian and the Wasted Afternoons. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Insightful2013 on April 11, 2014, 20:03 GMT

    Ever heard of the adage, Do not reinvent the wheel? It's well true. Why, learn from your mistakes, in certain cases, instead of emulating someone who has made and adapted from theirs. Never made a century until I adopted Gooch's stance. It gave me the time and extra power necessary. Couldn't play like him, but it worked wonders. Schools are exactly that. Formulas, mnemonics etc are a result of others putting in the time and finding easier ways to arrive at a result. We mimic behaviors, all the time, of our heroes, TV and film stars etc. Advertising is founded on mimicry. Get a celebrity to advertise the product so the easily influenced, will purchase. In fact you can tell almost everything about someone by finding out who they admire and what are the qualities they admire in that person. That is proper advice, from someone who has been in the Psychiatric field for over 25 years, without a single injury to date. And I engage a lot! The secret is also RESPECT. Learned from a colleague

  • Pacelikefire_Samrat on April 11, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    Good article,very well written.All of us irrespective of our age,mimic our heroes.When we start playing cricket,we start off bowling with a particular action which changes as much as with every ball.I remember doing that every time I used to play with my friends to such an extent that with the waqar younis action I would only pitch it up(it would inadverently end up as a full toss and get smashed).Atleast by imitating their mannerisms,we feel that we are doing something which our heroes do on a regular basis.Feels great actually.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on April 13, 2014, 12:22 GMT

    I used to imagine myself-holding a bat-as left hand Mark Waugh imitating his stance,pick up,pose playing with cousins near the house.Another matter the only person who got an impression of MW is myself ! Even though I could'nt see myself in the 'pose'!-:)

  • HatsforBats on April 12, 2014, 13:24 GMT

    Pretty sure I'm a right-handed Gower; imitation being the highest form of flattery and all that.

  • p_sivaram on April 12, 2014, 13:21 GMT

    Interesting article. May have been similar instances in Bollywood too but I remember half of our school aping Rajinikanth playing cricket in Dharmayudham using a very photogenic bat!! Sorry, no intended offense meant to the legends or the writer but couldn't hold back to mention this.

  • Biggus on April 12, 2014, 0:44 GMT

    Sure, we all do it. I picked up the habit of bat twirling from watching some batsman in my youth. It may have been Gordon Greenidge but it's so long ago I've forgotten the original source.

  • CricketPissek on April 11, 2014, 17:04 GMT

    Great topic. I always 'channel' a certain bowler when I run in. Knowing very well I haven't nailed all nuances, it seems to help my rhythm. Here's one for you: Sri Lanka's new opening batsman Kusal Perera wanted to idolise his hero Sanath Jayasuriya so much so that he started batting left handed! His square cuts and flick over midwicket look like carbon copies. I remember Sehwag starting out his career as a Sachin clone, and Shoaib Malik having an identical action to Saqlain Mushtaq. Looks like South Asian players can be very successful with their imitations.

  • Nampally on April 11, 2014, 15:26 GMT

    Amongst the natural acts of the Cricketers I rate some memorable ones: Sobers lilting musical walk almost like Calypso in action + his signature stiff Collar. Many Cricketer of that era tried to imitate him- most notable amongst them was Rusi Surthi of India, called Sobers of India! M.L.Jaisimha copied Sobers' stiff Collar. Dexter's majestic walk gave him "Lord Ted" nickname! Lillee's long run up & his great acceleration & all his effort he put into every ball was a pleasure to watch. This was only matched by Wes Hall of WI & Proctor of SA. Subash Gupte & Vinoo Mankad's short run up of 3 paces yet their magical spin bowling! Imran Khan's effort, pace & guile was magical. Polly Umrigar's & Vijay Manjrekar's magical twirl of the bat. John Snow's wild & aggressive bowling at Gavaskar which severed his neck chain into fragments! Pataudi's one eyed stance & his graceful wristy shots. Brutal power of Lloyd only matched by Gayle. Fiery Trueman & smooth statham acting in pair + Many more!.

  • Vivek.Bhandari on April 11, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    I remember how Grant Flower used to 'grin' while batting (every time he plonked the bat while the bowler was on his way); also, Brad Hogg used to stick his tongue out while bowling, fielding, and every other time; me and my kid brother used to observe these very dearly and tried to imitate them as well...

  • on April 11, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    when i was a kid i took to batting left-handed in honour of my hero graeme pollock. only trouble was i retained my right-handed stance. not a great success

  • Insightful2013 on April 11, 2014, 20:03 GMT

    Ever heard of the adage, Do not reinvent the wheel? It's well true. Why, learn from your mistakes, in certain cases, instead of emulating someone who has made and adapted from theirs. Never made a century until I adopted Gooch's stance. It gave me the time and extra power necessary. Couldn't play like him, but it worked wonders. Schools are exactly that. Formulas, mnemonics etc are a result of others putting in the time and finding easier ways to arrive at a result. We mimic behaviors, all the time, of our heroes, TV and film stars etc. Advertising is founded on mimicry. Get a celebrity to advertise the product so the easily influenced, will purchase. In fact you can tell almost everything about someone by finding out who they admire and what are the qualities they admire in that person. That is proper advice, from someone who has been in the Psychiatric field for over 25 years, without a single injury to date. And I engage a lot! The secret is also RESPECT. Learned from a colleague

  • Pacelikefire_Samrat on April 11, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    Good article,very well written.All of us irrespective of our age,mimic our heroes.When we start playing cricket,we start off bowling with a particular action which changes as much as with every ball.I remember doing that every time I used to play with my friends to such an extent that with the waqar younis action I would only pitch it up(it would inadverently end up as a full toss and get smashed).Atleast by imitating their mannerisms,we feel that we are doing something which our heroes do on a regular basis.Feels great actually.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on April 13, 2014, 12:22 GMT

    I used to imagine myself-holding a bat-as left hand Mark Waugh imitating his stance,pick up,pose playing with cousins near the house.Another matter the only person who got an impression of MW is myself ! Even though I could'nt see myself in the 'pose'!-:)

  • HatsforBats on April 12, 2014, 13:24 GMT

    Pretty sure I'm a right-handed Gower; imitation being the highest form of flattery and all that.

  • p_sivaram on April 12, 2014, 13:21 GMT

    Interesting article. May have been similar instances in Bollywood too but I remember half of our school aping Rajinikanth playing cricket in Dharmayudham using a very photogenic bat!! Sorry, no intended offense meant to the legends or the writer but couldn't hold back to mention this.

  • Biggus on April 12, 2014, 0:44 GMT

    Sure, we all do it. I picked up the habit of bat twirling from watching some batsman in my youth. It may have been Gordon Greenidge but it's so long ago I've forgotten the original source.

  • CricketPissek on April 11, 2014, 17:04 GMT

    Great topic. I always 'channel' a certain bowler when I run in. Knowing very well I haven't nailed all nuances, it seems to help my rhythm. Here's one for you: Sri Lanka's new opening batsman Kusal Perera wanted to idolise his hero Sanath Jayasuriya so much so that he started batting left handed! His square cuts and flick over midwicket look like carbon copies. I remember Sehwag starting out his career as a Sachin clone, and Shoaib Malik having an identical action to Saqlain Mushtaq. Looks like South Asian players can be very successful with their imitations.

  • Nampally on April 11, 2014, 15:26 GMT

    Amongst the natural acts of the Cricketers I rate some memorable ones: Sobers lilting musical walk almost like Calypso in action + his signature stiff Collar. Many Cricketer of that era tried to imitate him- most notable amongst them was Rusi Surthi of India, called Sobers of India! M.L.Jaisimha copied Sobers' stiff Collar. Dexter's majestic walk gave him "Lord Ted" nickname! Lillee's long run up & his great acceleration & all his effort he put into every ball was a pleasure to watch. This was only matched by Wes Hall of WI & Proctor of SA. Subash Gupte & Vinoo Mankad's short run up of 3 paces yet their magical spin bowling! Imran Khan's effort, pace & guile was magical. Polly Umrigar's & Vijay Manjrekar's magical twirl of the bat. John Snow's wild & aggressive bowling at Gavaskar which severed his neck chain into fragments! Pataudi's one eyed stance & his graceful wristy shots. Brutal power of Lloyd only matched by Gayle. Fiery Trueman & smooth statham acting in pair + Many more!.

  • Vivek.Bhandari on April 11, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    I remember how Grant Flower used to 'grin' while batting (every time he plonked the bat while the bowler was on his way); also, Brad Hogg used to stick his tongue out while bowling, fielding, and every other time; me and my kid brother used to observe these very dearly and tried to imitate them as well...

  • on April 11, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    when i was a kid i took to batting left-handed in honour of my hero graeme pollock. only trouble was i retained my right-handed stance. not a great success

  • Oxonion on April 11, 2014, 11:08 GMT

    Wasim Raja; what class, what seduction....if ever a sportsman with an aura, sir, if ever a sportsman with an aura....may be not emulated, but idolized by all who saw him...gone are such crowd pullers

  • TripleCenturian on April 11, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    Graham Gooch often livened up a festival game or dull session heading for a draw with his bowling impersonations. I recall him doing the long run up of Bob Willis and the javelin delivery of Jeff Thomson among others. As a kid I tried to model my slow left arm bowling action on Phil Edmonds but stopped short of trying to throw in the odd bouncer as he did to Hadlee!

  • jzakariya on April 11, 2014, 10:40 GMT

    One of my favorites of all time is the ritual Wasim Raja would go through before facing every ball. First he would plant his left foot very specifically at a point on the crease where he was going to stand, with the right splayed outwards. Then he would look around at the field and place his bat behind the left foot. Now he would move his right leg into position to complete his stance. It was all very deliberate and all exactly the same every ball he faced. I used to love watching him do that, ball after ball.

  • MariusPontmercy94 on April 11, 2014, 10:04 GMT

    As an Aussie, I don't know any leggie (myself included) who doesn't bowl with a Shane Warne-esque action. And one of my cousins decided to learn to bowl with his left arm just so he could copy Mitchell Johnson's bowling action.

    As for batting, I switched from right to left-handed at 14 (not to emulate Adam Gilchrist, my favourite batsman to watch as a kid, but due to multiple breaks in my left wrist following a skateboarding accident).

  • smudgeon on April 11, 2014, 9:32 GMT

    I still recall Ian Healy in a testimonial match taking a wicket with his Malcolm Marshall impression. Nailed it, I guess.

  • ksquared on April 11, 2014, 7:46 GMT

    Idiosyncrasies have been around for ages Jayasuriya is a more recent example adjusts his helmet, pads, thighguard, and everything else, taps the pitch numerous times then smashes the bowler over point or launches it over squareleg!!!!

  • ksquared on April 11, 2014, 7:46 GMT

    Idiosyncrasies have been around for ages Jayasuriya is a more recent example adjusts his helmet, pads, thighguard, and everything else, taps the pitch numerous times then smashes the bowler over point or launches it over squareleg!!!!

  • smudgeon on April 11, 2014, 9:32 GMT

    I still recall Ian Healy in a testimonial match taking a wicket with his Malcolm Marshall impression. Nailed it, I guess.

  • MariusPontmercy94 on April 11, 2014, 10:04 GMT

    As an Aussie, I don't know any leggie (myself included) who doesn't bowl with a Shane Warne-esque action. And one of my cousins decided to learn to bowl with his left arm just so he could copy Mitchell Johnson's bowling action.

    As for batting, I switched from right to left-handed at 14 (not to emulate Adam Gilchrist, my favourite batsman to watch as a kid, but due to multiple breaks in my left wrist following a skateboarding accident).

  • jzakariya on April 11, 2014, 10:40 GMT

    One of my favorites of all time is the ritual Wasim Raja would go through before facing every ball. First he would plant his left foot very specifically at a point on the crease where he was going to stand, with the right splayed outwards. Then he would look around at the field and place his bat behind the left foot. Now he would move his right leg into position to complete his stance. It was all very deliberate and all exactly the same every ball he faced. I used to love watching him do that, ball after ball.

  • TripleCenturian on April 11, 2014, 11:04 GMT

    Graham Gooch often livened up a festival game or dull session heading for a draw with his bowling impersonations. I recall him doing the long run up of Bob Willis and the javelin delivery of Jeff Thomson among others. As a kid I tried to model my slow left arm bowling action on Phil Edmonds but stopped short of trying to throw in the odd bouncer as he did to Hadlee!

  • Oxonion on April 11, 2014, 11:08 GMT

    Wasim Raja; what class, what seduction....if ever a sportsman with an aura, sir, if ever a sportsman with an aura....may be not emulated, but idolized by all who saw him...gone are such crowd pullers

  • on April 11, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    when i was a kid i took to batting left-handed in honour of my hero graeme pollock. only trouble was i retained my right-handed stance. not a great success

  • Vivek.Bhandari on April 11, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    I remember how Grant Flower used to 'grin' while batting (every time he plonked the bat while the bowler was on his way); also, Brad Hogg used to stick his tongue out while bowling, fielding, and every other time; me and my kid brother used to observe these very dearly and tried to imitate them as well...

  • Nampally on April 11, 2014, 15:26 GMT

    Amongst the natural acts of the Cricketers I rate some memorable ones: Sobers lilting musical walk almost like Calypso in action + his signature stiff Collar. Many Cricketer of that era tried to imitate him- most notable amongst them was Rusi Surthi of India, called Sobers of India! M.L.Jaisimha copied Sobers' stiff Collar. Dexter's majestic walk gave him "Lord Ted" nickname! Lillee's long run up & his great acceleration & all his effort he put into every ball was a pleasure to watch. This was only matched by Wes Hall of WI & Proctor of SA. Subash Gupte & Vinoo Mankad's short run up of 3 paces yet their magical spin bowling! Imran Khan's effort, pace & guile was magical. Polly Umrigar's & Vijay Manjrekar's magical twirl of the bat. John Snow's wild & aggressive bowling at Gavaskar which severed his neck chain into fragments! Pataudi's one eyed stance & his graceful wristy shots. Brutal power of Lloyd only matched by Gayle. Fiery Trueman & smooth statham acting in pair + Many more!.

  • CricketPissek on April 11, 2014, 17:04 GMT

    Great topic. I always 'channel' a certain bowler when I run in. Knowing very well I haven't nailed all nuances, it seems to help my rhythm. Here's one for you: Sri Lanka's new opening batsman Kusal Perera wanted to idolise his hero Sanath Jayasuriya so much so that he started batting left handed! His square cuts and flick over midwicket look like carbon copies. I remember Sehwag starting out his career as a Sachin clone, and Shoaib Malik having an identical action to Saqlain Mushtaq. Looks like South Asian players can be very successful with their imitations.